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« Public Health England can't confirm how many smokers took part in Stoptober 2016 | Main | A tale of two conferences »

Square peg, round hole

If ever there was a square peg in a round hole it was me at the Next Generation Nicotine Delivery conference in London yesterday.

In my previous post I explained that I was a little surprised to be invited to speak, even on a panel entitled 'Gaining valuable insight into consumer needs and consumption of alternative nicotine delivery products'.

I missed the first day of this two-day industry-led event but looking at the programme almost every speaker had a direct, often commercial, interest in next generation products.

Not everyone was an expert in risk reduction. Some presentations were no more than sales pitches for specific products, like the nicotine tablet that dissolves in your mouth.

Nevertheless they all came armed with a phalanx of information and statistics.

My role, in contrast, was to speak in more general terms, holding fast to views that I sense are verging on luddite to some people, including those who are professionally involved in e-cigarettes and other emerging products.

For example, the suggestion that many people enjoy smoking and don't want to quit seems almost heretical, even in the company of tobacco industry representatives, several of whom have switched roles and are now actively engaged in promoting the new generation of harm reduction products.

Anyway my fellow panellists were James Murphy, head of Biosciences at British American Tobacco, and Dr Taman Powell, founder and CEO of Xolo Vape.

We had each been invited to make some opening comments (which I had prepared) but the format changed. Instead we were asked to respond to questions from the chairman, and later the audience, in an attempt to make it more conversational.

Regular readers will be familiar with everything I said, including my little dig at PMI for openly targeting a "smoke free world".

Invited to say a few words about Forest, I stressed that we embraced harm reduction and next generation products because we're pro-choice not pro-smoking.

That said, we represent smokers who, by and large, enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

"Many have tried e-cigarettes," I said, "but vaping doesn't suit them. It's important to understand this and ask why more smokers haven't switched.

"The debate is not just about health," I added. "It's also about risk-taking and pleasure.

"One of the reasons so many people are prepared to risk their health is because of the pleasure they get from smoking."

Repeating a point I made at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) in Brussels in September I suggested that the reason many smokers haven't switched to e-cigarettes is because the jump to a smokeless product that doesn't contain tobacco is, for many, too big.

That gap, I said, has to be filled with other products, hence our interest in heat not burn (HnB) or what James Murphy called tobacco heating products.

At that point I quoted comments from readers of this blog, posted earlier this week. First, Mark Butcher:

Here in Geneva, where the iQOS has been on sale for more than a year, anecdotal evidence seems to show vapers (former smokers) are giving up vaping and going for the HnB products. That is despite there is no real cost saving over conventional fags as the heat sticks are taxed at the same rate as fags.

And from Pat Nurse:

I believe HnB are the true next generation for smokers. Ecigs are next generation for quitters.

That, I said, might be a bit harsh but it makes an interesting distinction. In the minds of some smokers HnB is an extension of smoking because it remains faithful to tobacco in a way that e-cigarettes do not.

What we need, I said, are more products, more choice, that fill the gap between combustible tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Responding to a question I may have misinterpreted I argued that the evolution from combustible cigarettes to smoke free products must not be rushed.

"Forcing people to quit or switch involves bullying and coercion. Smokers must be given time, decades if necessary, to make their own choices."

Finally, and I can't remember how the subject cropped up, I said I would never trust tobacco control.

"The endgame," I warned, "is not a smoke free world but a nicotine free world. If anyone can't see that they must be living in a parallel universe."

Written down (and heavily edited!) my contribution doesn't sound too bad. At the time however I felt as I often do at these events – an outsider howling at the moon.

The truth is few people want to hear that many people enjoy smoking and don't want to quit. Or that many consumers put pleasure ahead of the health risks. Or that the risks are often exaggerated.

In vaping circles fewer still want to hear that e-cigarettes may not be the panacea many believe them to be.

Don't get me wrong. I felt no hostility from the audience. (This wasn't a public health event!) I think they were just a bit surprised that I wasn't completely on message.

In the current climate, even at an industry event like this, that makes you different - and not in a good way.

PS. When I get a moment I will compare the Next Generation Nicotine Delivery conference with the E-Cigarette Summit that also took place in London yesterday.

The latter is a bigger, far better promoted event but the contrast – and the hidden message – is very interesting.

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Reader Comments (7)

"The endgame," I warned, "is not a smoke free world but a nicotine free world. If anyone can't see that they must be living in a parallel universe."

Are you forgetting 'sustainability'? I read somewhere only a couple of days ago (and it was connected in some way with tobacco control) about how many millions of hectares of land were being used to grow tobacco plants. The inference is that that land should be used for something else, such as food crops.

Tobacco control is part of the whole 'sustainability' project of the UN.

Friday, November 18, 2016 at 14:45 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

I watched a few videos on YouTube and I must confess I don't get the appeal of HnB - you're still exiled to the outdoors, to cite from the classics, and all the paraphernalia looks more similar to vaping than classic smoking. For a smoker concerned about health effects of smoking (why else would one even consider HnB) it seems more sensible to me to cut down on the no of cigarettes smoked and/or switch to lower tar ones than to go the HnB route.

Friday, November 18, 2016 at 15:51 | Unregistered CommenterAna

With hnb one can still enjoy the taste without the feeling that one is sucking on a nicotine patch that looks something like a toy screwdriver.

We wouldn't have to be outside with hnb because it is not smoking. It is vapourising tobacco so it is vaping. One plastic stick looks just like another so who would know?

Vaping is for quitters not tobacco connoisseurs .

A lot of people enjoy smoking. That is a fact and just because some clearly don-t enjoy it and prefer an inferior nicotine replacement product in ecigs that doesn't make it true that all smokers want to quit.

The only thing all smokers want is to be left alone. In addition, they also want vapers to stop demanding more vaping in the name of the smoker and at the expense of smoking.

Friday, November 18, 2016 at 16:56 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

That said, hnb has not evolved enough yet for me to consider trying it again but I am watching the product with interest in the knowledge that one day traditional tobacco won't be around.

I am a very happy smoker but the tobacco companies are preparing to shaft us and abandon us to a world where they will no longer produce cigarettes.

The idiots think their customers are antismokers and despite our loyalty and lifelong purchases, they are listening more to those that hate us than support us.

I recall reading in Chris Snowden's book that antismoker activists bought shares in tobacco companies so they could get on company boards and destroy the product. It looks like the takeover is complete. 😉

Friday, November 18, 2016 at 17:03 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Pat Nurse, bear in mind that cigarettes are not the only "vehicle" to smoke tobacco, fortunately we still have cigars, pipes and water pipes. These forms of smoking are (in general) not tied nor controlled by the cigarette industry. They are also a lot less hazardous than cigarettes, as long as the smoke is puffed without inhalation and when smoked in moderation. This has been shown by most epidemiological studies.

I'm not saying that switching from smoking cigarettes to cigars or pipes would work for every smoker, or that this is some sort of magic bullet solution (like some vaper evangelists claim for massively switching to e-cigs). However, it worked for me: I smoke only cigars and pipes and have not smoked a cigarette in 25 years. It may work for a lot of smokers. Bear in mind that practically everybody (including women) smoked cigars and pipes before the industrial production of cigarettes in the late XIX century. Perhaps the pendulum may swing back after the possible demise of the industrially produced cigarette in the XXI century.

Saturday, November 19, 2016 at 4:06 | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

Flattered I was quoted at the conference! And Ana, I use my iqos in many bars without worry (although not all of them - I have been kicked out by a couple!)

Monday, November 21, 2016 at 13:59 | Unregistered CommenterMark Butcher

Cigars are not my thing nor pipes. Maybe it's like a pint of beer versus a shot of whisky choice. I do like occasional cigar and I don't like tailored cigs but I adore rolled tobacco, the craft of rolling and finding new and different tobaccos to smoke is what I enjoy as much as taste in finding a proper beaut.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 at 10:00 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

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